The Big Four recruit

Ireland’s strengthening economy is converting into increased demand for both qualified and trainee accountants. According to specialist accounting recruitment practice Barden, demand rose by a third last year as both foreign direct investors and SMEs sought experienced professionals. The Big Four are also recruiting heavily, especially because three of them – Deloitte, EY and PwC – have established new hubs in Belfast to support global activities.

Paul Vance, head of recruitment at KPMG in Ireland – which has 1,900 people in the two jurisdictions – says: “In both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland we’re seeing an improving economy result in increased demand for our services and that’s reflected in our own recruitment plans. We’re the largest private sector recruiter of graduates in Ireland so in many ways we act as a bell weather for the wider economy.”

“We’re not under any illusions – good people have choices in terms of career, choices within the accounting profession and of course many choices as to where in the world they go – so we have to be as attractive as possible. For most hires this ends up being a combination of remuneration, the range of client opportunities, training and career progression. For graduates – a firm’s track record of success in professional exams is also a consideration.

“Our recruitment model at all levels is a mixture of direct application and some agency engagement – it varies widely depending on the role and the type of candidate we’re looking for.”

In addition, KPMG is targeting qualified accountants who left the country during the recession, but are now interested in returning home. Vance explains: “The good news is that Ireland is seen as being an attractive place to live and work. We’re certainly meeting some people who have worked and travelled abroad and see that the economy North and South is providing better opportunities and we aim to tap in to that vastly improved sentiment.”

PwC is, by some way, the Big Four firm with the largest presence in Ireland. Currently its staffing, South and North, is 2,843, up slightly from 2,806 last year. About 1,200 of these are based in Northern Ireland, following a substantial expansion (see box). PwC is currently undertaking a big recruitment process for its Belfast operations, while also continuing its steady recruitment in the Republic.

A spokeswoman for PwC says: “We haven’t changed our recruitment approach. We held our graduate recruitment numbers right through the recession. If we have stopped recruiting graduates we would have damaged ourselves for the future. We are recruiting 250 graduates a year in the South, plus some 50 or so who are professionally qualified.

“Graduate recruitment is a process that kick-starts into play at the end of August, beginning of September. We go out to colleges, interview people, then give them presentations. It is a long process of getting to know them. It is based on their qualifications, background, and how well they present themselves at interview. Their presentation skills are especially important at the moment.

We don’t just recruit business graduates, but also science, engineering are very important to us.”

PwC is the only one of Big Four that does not operate on an all-Ireland basis, with Northern Ireland integrated as part of the UK rather than the Irish business. Lynne Rainey, a director with PwC’s forensic consulting team in Northern Ireland who has responsibility for managing graduate recruitment in the North, says: “PwC in Northern Ireland is one of the region’s biggest graduate recruiters, both for aspiring accountants and those seeking a career in consulting and our new technology and related businesses. “Over the past year, we’ve recruited over 200 new staff and will recruit around a further 900 over the next 36 months – the majority of these are graduates or recent graduates with some work experience. However, one of the consequences of the spate of investments and expansions in Northern Ireland’s business and financial services sector is a tightening in the graduate labour market – and while there is still no shortage of graduates, there is now greater competition in the recruitment market.

“Our profession is changing. It’s no longer just about becoming an accountant, we’re developing people who will become trusted advisors, work internationally and who will enjoy exciting, rewarding and varied careers – so communicating those opportunities to an increasingly selective graduate market is the challenge.

“Our experience suggests that the best recruiters for those new career opportunities are our own staff – so we go into schools, colleges, universities, participate in recruitment fairs and run our own open days and recruitment evenings, with partners and staff talking to their peers, alumni groups, schools and universities.

“We are increasingly using social media to share publications, research and insight and have found that creates curiosity about career opportunities with PwC. We’re also reaching out to the hundreds of Northern Ireland students who study at universities in Britain and we’ve had some success in attracting applications from this key expatriate group.

“We’ve also developed a number of new ‘Higher Apprenticeship’ programmes aimed at school-leavers; these have the same entry requirements as university and deliver a professional qualification leading to the same career opportunities as graduate entrants – given soaring university fees, these have proved very popular.

“We want to create curiosity about PwC careers amongst undergrads and recent grads. That means face-to-face recruitment fairs in colleges, university and our offices; social media and the web. For experienced hires, our experience suggests that publishing research, comment and thought leadership in professional journals and media read by recruitment target groups like cyber, data analytics and technology, creates curiosity and we can generate a surprising number of direct applications. We’re also looking to existing and experienced staff and inviting them to move into more specialised and experienced roles.”

Deloitte has just short of 2,000 personnel across the Republic and Northern Ireland. Rose Hogan, Deloitte’s resourcing manager, comments: “Deloitte in Ireland has achieved significant growth in recent years, and we anticipate all areas of our business to grow in the coming years. In order to support that growth, attracting and developing exceptional talent locally and globally is vital for the continued successful growth of our organisation. At Deloitte, we work together with clients on their most complex of business issues to create an impact that really matters for them. We foster a high performance environment and so offer challenging and rewarding career opportunities.

“Currently we are recruiting for over 100 positions across all areas in audit, tax, consulting, corporate finance and enterprise risk services. We are looking for ambitious, collaborative and talented individuals motivated to pursue an exciting and challenging career at Deloitte. The breadth of services that we offer means that we are currently looking for professionals from diverse backgrounds and at all levels in audit, tax, compliance and regulatory consulting, data analytics, information security and advisory, technology consulting, strategy and operations, and financial services consulting.”

EY has the smallest presence in Ireland of the Big Four, with 1,527 people, of which 1,380 are in the Republic and 147 in the North. But the figure for its Belfast operation is set to increase dramatically, with nearly 500 people to be taken on. Mike McKerr, managing partner for EY in Ireland, says: “We achieved market leading growth in financial year 2014 of 17.3%, growing all four of our service lines. But EY’s success is about much more than financial results. It is also about the people who enable us to deliver exceptional client service. The business performance we have achieved has been supported by the investment we are making in our people, from graduates through to our partners. Last year, EY appointed eight new partners and increased its graduate intake to 200.

“As the economy recovers, we have a responsibility to create opportunities for young people in our profession in order to reverse the recent migration and ensure sufficient talent exists to meet future market demand. We aim to attract local talent, but we are also reaching out to those who have emigrated to Australia, America, South Africa and beyond to ‘come home’ and build a future with EY.”



Growing demand in Belfast

Three of the Big Four – Deloitte, EY and PwC – have in recent years established major support centres in Belfast, creating hundreds of jobs in the process.

PwC is creating 807 new jobs over the next five years in its Belfast and Dungannon bases, focusing on two activities. One of these is a cloud-based management information service – My Financepartner – which is intended to provide clients with much improved financial data to enable them to take key business decisions. PwC is recruiting qualified accountants and also graduates for training for this operation. Another business centre – PwC Augment – will provide specialist project management support to the firm’s clients globally.

PwC’s head of regions Stephanie Hyde, says: “Our decision to invest in Northern Ireland reflects our confidence in the high standard of the local graduate pool, where we’ve benefitted from strong local talent, recruiting both accountancy graduates and graduates from other disciplines.”

EY is creating 486 jobs in a new business unit based in Belfast, offering advisory and assurance services to clients from outside Northern Ireland. Recruitment is taking place over four years and the firm is seeking qualified professionals, graduates and school leavers.

Mike McKerr, managing partner for EY in Ireland, explains: “These jobs are high quality posts across our audit and consultancy services. The successful candidates, on the consultancy side of the business, could find themselves working on major infrastructure projects across the UK, Ireland and even as far as the Middle East, by way of example. Given the global nature of the firm, EY is continuously looking for new talent to work with its international clients. On the audit side, meanwhile, the Belfast-based team members will be a mix of mobile and static workforce working alternating between face to face interaction with client and remote work across several areas of the business including data analytics.”

Deloitte has opened an analytics and digital hub in Belfast, which is planned to employ 177 people by the end of next year, plus another 338 by 2019. The firm is recruiting qualified accountants, graduates and other suitable candidates. Those appointed will attend Deloitte’s Analytics Training Academy. The firm is also expanding in other service areas provided from Belfast, including tax, finance, pensions and actuarial consulting. In support of this, Deloitte has entered into a partnership with Queen’s University in Belfast on its actuarial degree course, supporting this through careers development and work experience for students.

Jackie Henry, Deloitte’s senior partner in Belfast, says: “The choice of Belfast for this investment is significant, and was made in the face of strong international competition. The excellent performance of the Belfast Technology Studio since it was set up in 2011, together with the support from government, made Northern Ireland stand out as the best place to grow this aspect of our business.”

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